Omega-3 & Omega-6 For Dogs: What Is The Difference?

Fresh Salmon Steak

Always wondered what is the difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6, and why it matters to your dog? You’ve likely heard of its benefits and importance from vets or pet nutrition blogs, but what is the real deal? We’re here to help you uncover more about these essential fatty acids, their benefits and why they’re more than just a passing trend in the world of pet care.

What Is The Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6 for Dogs?

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are both considered fatty acids. Fatty acids are classified as lipids, a larger macronutrient class that serves a structural role and provides energy to your dog’s body, among other functions. However, they are specifically classified as a polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) which is an essential nutrient because your dog’s body is unable to produce such fatty acids on its own [1]. The only way dogs can obtain such fatty acids is through the food they consume. This is why paying attention to the quality and balance of these fats is essential for their health.

Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Dogs:

sunflower oil with omega 6 in a glass jug


There are 2 types of Omega-6 fatty acids. Arachidonic acid (AA) and Linoleic acid (LA). AA is primarily found in animal-based foods and is generally abundant in fresh food like eggs, poultry, fish, and beef. LA, primarily sourced from vegetable oils and chicken fat, plays a crucial role in dietary fat balance. Vegetable oils like canola, sunflower and safflower oils are other sources of LA. And when it comes to meats, pasture-raised poultry have a richer linoleic acid content compared to commercially farmed counterparts [2].

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs:

seafood prawn and salmon with omega 3 fish oil capsules


There are 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is mainly found in seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds. ALA is commonly used to offset other unhealthy fats that can cause health issues like raised blood glucose [3]. For example, incorporating chia and flax seeds into meals rich in poultry and pork fat, and hemp seeds with meals abundant in red meat fat can balance the harmful effects (such as obesity) of an otherwise high cholesterol diet.


Cold water fish and phytoplankton are rich in EPA and DHA. These are probably some of the most widely available sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain and eye development.


A dog’s diet that is lacking in EPA can often contribute to mood disorders such as depression as EPA is responsible for maintaining brain development and structures. With depression, the brain is inflamed, and EPA comes into play by helping reduce the adverse inflammation [4] In addition, Omega-3 and 6 play a crucial role in nervous system development and can lower the risk of diseases like cancer and sudden cardiac death. Furthermore, Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have shown benefits in treating various conditions including chronic inflammatory diseases, atopy, chronic renal disease, and certain cancers [5]. In short, they are extremely important for your best friend.

Surprisingly, knowing the amount of health benefits these essential fatty acids bring, did you know that before 2016, Omega-3 fatty acids were not listed as essential for a dog by the AAFCO? [6]

How Does Omega-3 and Omega-6 Contribute To Your Dog’s Health?

While both fatty acids control hormones, however, one of the fatty acids is responsible for triggering pro-inflammatory hormones within the immune system while the other dispenses anti-inflammatory hormones.

Omega-6 (Pro-inflammatory)

The inflammation response in the body is triggered by Omega-6 fatty acids. It is not all that scary as it sounds.


In fact, this inflammatory response is crucial to your dog when she experiences heat, redness, swelling, pain or loss of function as the inflammatory response will let the body know when to ‘activate’ the appropriate immunisation processes such as bringing in white blood cells to fight off infections brought on by viruses, germs and attacking bacteria.


This is all due to AA’s influence on the production of prostaglandins, a lipid that has homeostatic functions and mediates pathogenic mechanisms, including the inflammatory response [7].


Omega-6 fatty acids benefit dogs in many other ways including:

  • Improves the body’s ability to promote and repair skeletal and muscular tissue
  • Stimulates growth of your dog’s skin and fur
  • Provides good bone health
  • Regulates its metabolism


A deficiency can result in issues such as flaky and itchy skin due to impeded skin repair capabilities. Depleted levels of Omega-6 in your dog’s body can cause reproductive problems, poor growth and nervous system abnormalities [8].

Omega-3 (Anti-inflammatory)

The anti-inflammatory hormones produced by Omega-3 fatty acids work in tandem with Omega-6 fatty acids to offset inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been known to help dogs across the span of their lives by affecting inflammation in different ways, often by changing the makeup of cell membranes.


These changes can alter how cells communicate, affecting which genes are turned on or off, and how lipid mediators are produced. For instance, EPA and DHA can create resolvins, which are recently found to be anti-inflammatory and help resolve inflammation [9].


The various benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs include:

  • Reduce inflammation levels in the in the body
  • Protects against irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmia)
  • Treats heart disease, chronic kidney disease and arthritis
  • Improves brain function
  • Slows down canine cognitive dysfunction in older dogs


Omega-3 deficiency in dogs, similarly to a lack of Omega-6 can lead to dull, brittle coats, dry and flaky skin. Other symptoms like brittle claws, increased itching, fatigue, growth disturbances, and delayed wound healing are signs your dog has a deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids.

What’s A Healthy Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio For Dogs?

As with all things in life, balance needs to be achieved – even among Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Too much or too little of either can raise the wrong signals in the body and bring about health issues.


For example, an overabundance of Omega-3 may result in blood thinning or excessive bleeding, while an excess of Omega-6 could contribute to chronic conditions such as obesity or heart disease [10]. Ideally, a healthy ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is ideally 5:1 and nothing exceeding 10:1.


ratio 5:1 of omega 6 to omega 3 in dog diet


More often than not, the balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 gets thrown off because of the type of food we feed our best friends. Most of them consume too little Omega-3 and exceed the normal intake of Omega-6.


In addition, highly processed dog food like kibble strips away the essential fatty acids in the production process due to intense heat they use to create shelf stable pellets [11]. In turn, manufacturers resort to adding synthesised and artificial vitamins and minerals at the final stage to rebalance the food which reduces the bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals.


Although vegetable oils are one of the great sources to get Omega-6, the use of inferior ingredients such as inexpensive corn and low quality soybean oils used in processed food are also guilty of contributing to sky-high levels of Omega-6 which can cause your dog’s immune system to go haywire, trigger skin condition, and the early onset of diseases.


Homemade cooked food or self-prepared raw diets can also have abnormal ratios if nutritional values of the meal are not correctly balanced. When left unchecked for too long, this may cause irreparable damage to your best friend’s health.

Correcting The Omega-3 & Omega-6 Imbalance

As Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly overlooked, adding Omega-3 rich fresh ingredients such as fish like sardine, mackerel, anchovy, and wild caught salmon to your dog’s diet daily can help bring back much needed balance. While going to the market daily might not be possible for everyone, thankfully there are plenty of other options like Omega-3 rich marine phytoplankton or krill supplements for the time starved pet parent.


Research has shown that marine sources such as fish and krill are superior in their Omega-3 sources compared to their other plant-based sources such as seeds– krill being the ideal source [12]. Our oceans are teeming with health-giving life sources including wild Alaskan salmon and wild Antarctic krill that can benefit dogs greatly due to their high Omega-3 levels.


Krill is a shrimp-like crustacean that contains more EPA than fish oil (180 mg/g in regular fish oil vs 240 mg/g EPA in krill). Krill oil also has high levels of powerful antioxidants including Vitamin A and E, and naturally occurring astaxanthin, that comes from the red pigments of krill. Antioxidants like astaxanthin have been shown to aid in the elimination of harmful molecules called “free radicals”.


Not only that, there is no accumulation of heavy metals in krill, and it is also known to be a highly sustainable food source which means that we’re able to love our dogs and the earth, all at the same time!


krill shrimp filled with omega oils in a cluster


Another complete source of natural Omega-3 fatty acids comes from wild Alaskan salmon, sourced from fresh ocean waters. They provide a higher concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids per serving compared to other fish oils [13]. It is low in cholesterol, rich in natural vitamins and minerals, and contains significantly lower levels of mercury levels and toxins, making wild Alaskan salmon oil a preferable supplement over farm-raised alternatives.


raw cut wild Alaskan salmon on a cutting board



[1] Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council – 2006
[2] Fatty Acid and Antioxidant Profile of Eggs from Pasture-Raised Hens Fed a Corn- and Soy-Free Diet and Supplemented with Grass-Fed Beef Suet and Liver – PubMed, October 2022
[3] The Effects of a Low Linoleic Acid/α-Linolenic Acid Ratio on Lipid Metabolism and Endogenous Fatty Acid Distribution in Obese Mice – PubMed, July 2023
[4] Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms – PubMed, March 2014
[5] The role of dietary omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in the nutrition of dogs and cats: A review – Research Gate, January 2004
[6] Fatty acids: AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles – David A., May 2016
[7] Prostaglandins and Inflammation – PubMed, May 2011
[8] Omega 3 and 6 for Dog –, November 2023
[9] Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes – Philip C. Calder, March 2010
[10] Importance of maintaining a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio for reducing platelet aggregation, coagulation and thrombosis – PubMed, May 2019
[11] A literature review on vitamin retention during the extrusion of dry pet food – ScienceDirect, July 2021
[12] Comparison of Fish, Krill and Flaxseed as Omega-3 Sources to Increase the Omega-3 Index in Dogs – PubMed, February 2023
[13] Why is Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil Most Ef-fish-ient? – Vet Worthy